London researchers pioneer MRI technique to detect ovarian chemo benefits

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers in London have used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique - called 'diffusion-weighted' MRI - to determine whether women with late-stage ovarian cancer are benefitting from chemotherapy after their first round of treatment.

The finding, although preliminary, could lead to a way to avoid treating patients unnecessarily if they are not benefitting from chemotherapy.

At the moment, judging whether treatments are still effective isn't possible until a standard CT scan, or blood marker measurements prove conclusive. By this time, patients will have been treated for many months.

Writing in the journal Radiology, scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea - funded by Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie Actions and the ESPRC - explained how diffusion-weighted MRI can detect changes in tumours following a 21 or 28-day cycle of chemotherapy.

Over the course of nearly two years, 42 women with ovarian cancer were given diffusion-weighted MRI scans before and after their first and third cycles of chemotherapy. The measurement of water within the tissue was calculated and represented in a figure known as an Apparent Diffusion Coefficient (ADC).

Among those women who responded to drug treatment, ADCs were found to have risen, while in the group who did not benefit from their regimen, ADCs remained the same.

The ICR's Professor Nandita de Souza and colleagues at the ICR and The Royal Marsden wrote: "This test could allow us to predict after just one month whether a patient will benefit from the full six month course of chemotherapy.

"This would help make decisions on treatment and mean that patients could avoid the unpleasant side-effects of ineffective treatments."

The technique was also able to detect cancer that had spread from the ovaries into the peritoneal region, helping determine the extent of the cancer.

The test can be done on standard MRI machines found nationwide. A larger trial involving four hospitals, to be funded by Cancer Research UK, will begin later this year.

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "We hope that this new approach will allow doctors to monitor tumours much more closely in the future and make quicker decisions if treatments aren't working.

"Advanced ovarian cancer is difficult to treat and we're pleased to be funding the next stage of this research that will develop this test further."

Copyright Press Association 2011


  • Kyriazi, S. et al. Metastatic Ovarian and Primary Peritoneal Cancer: Assessing Chemotherapy Response with Diffusion-weighted MR Imaging—Value of Histogram Analysis of Apparent Diffusion Coefficients. Radiology DOI: 10.1148/radiol.11110577